WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury has indicted Derek Chauvin and three other former Minneapolis police officers for civil rights charges over the death of George Floyd.
The indictment, unsealed Friday, accuses Chauvin, 45, of violating Floyd's rights by pressing his left knee against Floyd's neck as he lay facedown on the ground, handcuffed and not resisting. Chauvin pinned Floyd for more than nine minutes, as Floyd gasped "I can't breathe," and even after he became unconscious.
Floyd's May 25, 2020 death, captured in a viral video, led to widespread calls for police reform and months of protests over police brutality against Black Americans.
Two other officers – J. Alexander Kueng, 27, and Tou Thao, 35 – who saw Chauvin pinning Floyd to the ground were charged for failing to intervene. All three, along with a fourth officer, Thomas Lane, 38, were charged for failing to provide medical aid to Floyd.
"We are encouraged by these charges and eager to see continued justice in this historic case that will impact Black citizens and all Americans for generations to come," the attorneys for Floyd's family, Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and L. Chris Stewart, said in statement.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison called the federal prosecution of the four officers "entirely appropriate."
"The federal government has a responsibility to protect the civil rights of every American and to pursue justice to the fullest extent of federal law," Ellison said in a statement.
The indictment is separate from the case in Minneapolis, where a jury convicted Chauvin of murder and manslaughter charges in April. The other officers are each facing aiding and abetting charges and will be tried this summer.
The Justice Department's prosecution, which could add more years to the sentences the former officers may face, accuses them of violating a federal law that forbid government officials from abusing their authority.
Chauvin, has requested a new trial in the Minneapolis case, citing prosecutorial and jury misconduct, among other issues. Chauvin's attorney, Eric J. Nelson, asked a judge to impeach the verdict, saying the jury felt pressured and failed to follow instructions, although he did not elaborate on the allegations.
The former officer faces 12 1/2 years in prison under sentencing guidelines for a first-time offender. But prosecutors argue there are aggravating factors that warrant a longer prison term, meaning Chauvin could face 30 years in prison.
Chauvin also indicted for allegedly kneeling on 14-year-old boy
Chauvin is also facing another federal indictment stemming from a 2017 confrontation with a 14-year-old. Chauvin violated the teen's rights by detaining him without justification and placing his knee on the boy's neck for 17 minutes, causing the teen to pass out, according to court records.
The incident happened in September 2017, when Chauvin and another officer responded to a call about a mother who said she had been assaulted by her son and daughter. The officers confronted the son in his bedroom and told the teen to get on his stomach. After the teen refused, Chauvin grabbed him by the neck and struck his head multiple times with the flashlight, court records say.
Chauvin later pinned his knee on the boy's neck as he lay facedown on the floor, while the boy's mother pleaded with the officers to not kill her son. Chauvin kept his knee on the boy's neck even after the handcuffed teen had stopped resisting, court records say.
The child, who needed stitches near his ear, later said he "blacked out for a minute" after Chauvin hit him with the flashlight.
Floyd's family's attorneys said the additional charges against Chauvin showed a pattern of abusive behavior.
White House stresses need for reform
Speaking to reporters Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the indictments and Chauvin's guilty verdict underscore the need for change.
"While that was a moment of justice, certainly, that it is just the beginning," Psaki said. "And it's a reminder of the need to put police reform in place through our legislative process and put those reforms in place across the country."
The Biden administration has moved swiftly to bring back federal oversight of police departments through wide-ranging investigations of patterns of abuses at troubled agencies.
The Justice Department is conducting one such investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department's operations, including its use of lethal force. The agency has also launched a similar investigation into whether the Louisville Metro Police Department engaged in civil rights abuses amid a nationwide reckoning after the death of Breonna Taylor.
Contributing: Maureen Groppe, Joel Shannon and Tami Abdollah
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: George Floyd's death: 4 ex-Minneapolis police officers indicted